News for Friday, December 15th

The Leafs are in town. Read Dave Stubbs's set-up here. The short version: the Leafs have won six of their last seven games, while the Habs have lost six straight at home. Neither Captain Koivu nor Coach Carbo has any idea why Les Boys can't get it done in their own house.

You don't need an article to tell you that the game will be loud, intense, and tight. These teams hate losing to each other, and both are essentially at the beginning of a protracted, 50 game scrap for the final Eastern conference playoff spot. A win by the Leafs would jump them a point over the Habs in the standings, remarkable considering that until about three weeks ago the Leafs were one of the worst teams in the NHL. They thumped Atlanta last night, and are playing with confidence. With any luck, the perennially strong presence of Leaf sweaters at the Bell will make the Canadiens forget they're playing at home.

Fun piece about the legendary Habs-Leafs rivaly here, written by the great Red Fisher. Contains a wonderful anecdote about a war of words between Punch Imlach and Toe Blake.

The Canadian Press reports that Bob Goodenow, former director of the NHLPA, has been hired to "help create" a new professional hockey league - in Europe - that would compete with the NHL for players. How this would work, I don't know, since professional hockey obviously already exists in Europe, but it is nonetheless an interesting idea whose time has come. Canadiens fans remember how the Habs lost Russian winger Alex Perezhogin when a Russian league team outbid the NHL squad for his services, a move that was noted as a first by front offices around the NHL. Would a European league - perhaps with teams in large cities such as Prague, Moscow, or Berlin - be able to compete financially for NHL talent? If so, it could bring about a radical change in North American pro hockey, from the NHL to the ECHL.

A rare mention in the Toronto Sun of the Montreal Canadiens: Mike Zeisberger has a "who's laughing now?" story, which correctly notes that the Canadiens now find themselves in the uncomfortable position the Leafs were in not so long ago, when everyone in Toronto was calling for the heads of John-John Ferguson and Paul Maurice. A little journalistic schadenfreude, for anyone who wants to read it.

Bulldogs coach Don Lever blasts the refereeing in the Dogs' shootout loss to Grand Rapids the other day: "It's probably the worst exhibition of refereeing I've seen," he said. Ref Nygel Pelletier called ten penalties against the Bulldogs in the game, allowing Grand Rapids to score three power-play goals. But the worst was yet to come: in the shoot-out, Grand Rapids' skater Evan McGrath was stopped by Yann Danis in the shootout, but proceeded to shove the puck into the net with his skate. Pelletier allowed the goal, the game winner, and coach Lever had to be restrained from going after him. Unfortunately, if and when Lever makes the jump to the NHL, his mood regarding the officiating is unlikely to improve.

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